When my dad was a little boy, his family, the Wards, camped in tents at Pomme de Terre Lake every weekend in the summer and at Bennett Spring State Park every weekend in the spring and fall. At “the lake,” the Ellis and Ward families were virtually inseparable. Hailing from the same Kansas City, Kansas neighborhood, both families loved the adventure and tradition of camping, skiing and sitting around a campfire telling fishing stories or around a picnic table playing spades or pitch. One weekend in the ’60s, the Ellises introduced everyone to “pudgie pie makers” and a decades-long, kid-friendly tradition was born.
Continuing with the family lake tradition, my parents, my brother’s family and my family prioritize a week every summer, blocking it out from camps and other summer activities. We rent a great house at Lake of the Ozarks and spend five or six days soaking up cousins, aunts, uncles, nana and papa, boat rides, flips off the dock and always – always – pudgie pies. The kids always make sure we plan a pudgie pie dinner. No trip is complete without it!
Basic elements of a pudgie pie
To make a pudgie pie, you will need:
- an aluminum or cast iron “cooker” (sometimes labeled pie iron) which looks kind of like a panini maker with long handles
- two slices of squishy bread (good old preservative-filled white bread works best)
- butter for greasing the cooker
- whatever you want to put inside your pie
- a hot fire with pockets of glowing coals
How to make a pudgie pie
- Open your cooker so it’s flattened with both pockets of the cooker facing up.
- Use butter to grease the inside of each pocket.
- Place a slice of bread in one pocket and top it with whatever you’d like. (See our suggestions below!)
- Place another slice of bread on top of your fillings and close the cooker, making sure as much bread as possible gets crimped in your cooker. If you’ve put too much filling in, remove a little before you clamp it closed. Drippy filling can cause your pie to not completely seal and then you’ll be eating a pretty messy meal.
- Find a spot of glowy coals and cook your pie, flipping every minute or two and opening to check frequently for that beautiful golden brown perfection.
- CAREFULLY remove your pie from the iron by opening it over a clean plate. Don’t let it drop from too high above the plate or you risk your filling bursting out!
- Place your blazing hot cooker away from small hands and flammable items.
- Have a seat and enjoy your delicious treat!
While we kept it simple for years, we’ve branched out in the last nine years since we started our own summer lake tradition. We’ve tried more adventuresome fillings and it’s always a tasty experiment.
Our family’s favorite pudgie pie concoctions
- Breakfast: leftover scrambled eggs, breakfast sausage or bacon, shredded cheese, peppers and onions.
- Biscuits and gravy: sausage and gravy (YOWZA – so good!). Be careful with this one – too much gravy can seep through your bread and make for a sloppy, doughy mess. If it’s too liquidy, crumble up a pre-baked biscuit and add it to soak up some of the gravy.
- Pizza: meat of your choice (sausage, hamburger, pepperoni work great), pizza sauce, shredded cheese, anything else you like on your pizza.
- Italian: leftover grilled chicken, pesto, shredded parmesan, spinach, sundried tomatoes (SO GOOD).
- Chili Dog: leftover grilled hot dogs with chili.
- Dessert: canned fruit pie filling, dipped in cinnamon/sugar before eating.
- Dessert with marshmallows: include a jumbo marshmallow in the filling with your canned fruit.
Pudgie pie possibilities
This fall when we camp at Bennett Spring, we’re really going to branch out. On the list to try:
- Indian: we’ll use naan instead of white bread, filled with butter chicken with raitha for dipping.
- Walking taco: taco meat, salsa, shredded cheese, crunched up Fritos; served with sour cream for dipping.
- Chicken bacon ranch: shredded grilled chicken, bacon, shredded cheese, and ranch for dipping.
Does your family make pudgie pies (or the equivalent but called something else)? We’d love to know what you make! Do you have other culinary campfire traditions? Tell us about it in the comments!